I have a somewhat funny story of what used to happen to me as a beginner student of the Spanish language when I confused the Spanish verbs “ser” and “estar.”

Recently, I was speaking to an “amiga” in Colombia who teaches Spanish to Americans and Europeans. And we were talking about some of the common mistakes that people make when learning Spanish.

Spanish Verbs “Ser” vs. “Estar

And the topic came up about how native English speakers often confuse the two verbs “estar” and “ser.” Both verbs mean “to be.”

And I told her how “estar” vs “ser” used to be an area of Spanish grammar that always confused me.

And she asked me to give her an example.

And then I told her, “If I arrived late somewhere, I would attempt to say ‘excuse me, I am late’ in Spanish. But I would get ‘estar’ mixed up with ‘ser.”

And instead of saying:

“Discúlpame, ESTOY retrasado”

I used to always make the mistake of saying:

“Discúlpame, SOY retrasado”

If you arrive late somewhere and say to someone “Discúlpame, ESTOY retrasado” that means “Excuse me, I am late” or “Excuse me, I was delayed.”

But if you arrive late somewhere and say to someone “Discúlpame SOY retrasado” that means “Excuse me, I am RETARDED.”

Confusion With The Spanish Verbs Ser and Estar

“Ser retrasado” means to be developmentally delayed, mentally slow, learning-disabled, etc.

“Estar retrasado” means to be delayed or late.

And my “amiga” thought that was “muy chistoso” (very funny.) I guess that’s also a good example of how confusing the verbs “estar” and “ser” can completely change the meaning of a sentence.